Saturday, July 13, 2019

More Mountain Tales

We returned to the camp for our annual July 4th family trip. This year, Connie and I spent the whole week which gave me plenty of time for more nature hikes and photography. The first photograph isn't "nature" exactly but it is pretty interesting. To most, it just looks like a dirty window but look at the pattern of the dirt - bear paws!
Bear Print
Outside of the cabin, we found another "home" situation going on. Connie and I watched these dedicated Yellow-bellied Sapsucker parents as they flew back and forth the their nest hole with food for their screaming babies. Here is Mom. She would bring the food and then go into the hole and bring out the baby poop to remove it from the nest. 

Mom- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Here is Dad. He is truly a good provider. His beak was overloaded with bugs each time he returned to the nest. Typical male, he didn't do any dirty diaper duty. 

Dad - Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
We spent an hour just watching the daily routine. Pretty remarkable. We also took a good hike up at the top of Nelson Run Road and stumbled on a male Mourning Warbler as he was carrying out his fatherly duties. Here he is with a beak full of bugs. 

Mourning Warbler
Mourning Warblers are secretive birds that spend their time in bushes so getting a photo isn't easy. He never revealed the location of his nest and babies. We left him alone after a few minutes so that he could deliver the goods. 

We expect birds to be singing in spring. The woods are loud with song in May and early June but we don't expect to hear birds singing in July. These 2 didn't get that memo. This male Towhee was singing away. He was either done with his first brood and looking to start a second family or maybe he missed out on a mate in May and is hoping for a late start. Either way, he was dedicated to the song. 

Eastern Towhee
This Chestnut-sided Warbler was also singing. At closer look, I noticed that he isn't quite in his adult breeding plumage. He doesn't have the "chestnut side" that gives this species it's name and the rest of the feathers are also dull. Maybe "he" is really a "she" who likes to sing? Maybe he is a young male still in that awkward pre-adult phase? Regardless of the situation, the song filled the trail. 

Chestnut-sided Warbler
Our neighbors, Linda and Frank mentioned that they have seen Flying Squirrels at their camp lately. The squirrels come out just before dusk. Come out from where? Apparently, the squirrels live in the rafters of the attic and come in and out through a tiny hole above the porch. We sat on the deck and watched for the critters to come out.

Flying Squirrel
How cute right? He would sit on the rafter for a few minutes and then run up to the roof and fly to a nearby tree. The whole motion takes a few seconds. Unfortunately, they are so fast and the light is so dim that capturing a photo is nearly impossible.  

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Potter County 2019

Wow. Where did June go? I'll tell you where - to house projects, that's where. After 20 years in our house, we broke down and decided to do some renovations and upgrades. After weeks of disruption by contractors and painters, we headed up to Potter County with our friends Jill and Becky for the summer solstice weekend. The plan was for Becky to teach us how to fly fish but the weather made that impossible. It rained for 3 weeks straight prior to our arrival making the streams unfishable. We hiked instead and I got to show them some birds. Cedar Waxwings are easy birds to show to non-birders. They are beautiful and often pose like this one did.

Cedar Waxwing
Really pretty birds are great to show non-birders. Unfortunately, many of the pretty birds are often difficult to see. Blackburnian Warblers are usually bouncing around at the tops of trees which puts them in that "difficult-to-see" category. Not this guy. This guy was flitting around in a walnut tree at eye level right in our yard making it easy for Jill to see. She was impressed.

Blackburnian Warbler
I snuck away to do some early morning photography down by the stream while the others lounged at the camp. There is a place where I can stand on the road at the tree top level which makes it easy to photograph yellow warblers and willow flycatchers. On this day, the stream was running high and fast. I heard a quack and saw a mother Common Merganser swimming against the current followed by 3 tiny ducklings. Wait til you see how cute this is:

Look how fast #3 swam to catch up! And then it got cuter. I snuck upstream to get an angle for some photographs. Mom didn't know that I was there until I moved. Then, she sounded the alarm call and the ducklings hustled close and jumped onto her back for safety.

Common Mergansers
I don't know where #3 was. Only 2 jumped on her back. I left them alone to continue their upbringing. 

We did see a fish this weekend when we went to the Austin Dam. This is a Sucker Fish that was swimming around a clear pool of water below the dam ruins. 

Colorful birds aren't the only attraction on our hikes. Jill spotted this Red Eft along the logging road. 

Red Eft
All-in-all it was a great weekend despite not being able to fish. The good news for me and Connie is that we were headed back to Potter for a whole week over July 4th holiday. More about that soon.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Back to Birds

Let's start this post out with a Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest. Harvey found this nest in Belleplain State Park while looking for another bird. Here is the female sitting in the nest.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Nest
The bird that Harvey was looking for was this Kentucky Warbler. We heard the bird singing along Pine Swamp Road a few times. I went back to the spot to see if I could get a photo and was really pleased to get a few. 

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler
Another bird that we often here singing in Belleplain is Prothonotary Warbler. There is a place in the woods that has a post in the middle of the creek. I've waited and waited for the bird to perch on that post for years. It happened last week for about 3 seconds. I managed to get this photo.

Prothonotary Warbler
Another bird that usually doesn't pose is the Brown Thrasher. Drew and I scared up a couple who were nesting in a shrub near the visitor center in Virginia. They both popped out of the bush squawking at us.

Brown Thrasher
Back on the beach, I was doing my volunteer duty watching the shorebirds and snapped this photo of a Common Grackle walking along in the wind. The wind was blowing so hard, the bird couldn't keep his tail down.

Common Grackle
Overhead, this Osprey came back ashore with a fish. He flew right over my head with his catch of Menhaden.

Osprey with Menhaden
I was just happy to have a few birds to photograph recently.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Let's Call it Philly Reptile Nerd for Today

I haven't put as much effort into birding this spring as in previous years. A mix of weather, home projects and family obligations have made it a bit difficult to get out there for photos and stories. When I have been out, the birds are not quite posing either. Thankfully, the reptiles are giving me something to photograph. Here are a few starting with a baby Box Turtle crossing the path:

Baby Box Turtle
 And this Fowler's Toad sitting in the sand path in Cape May.

Fowler's Toad
Drew and I found this American Toad down in Massanutten Virginia.

American Toad
And (Warning - adult content below) these Fence Lizards making more little lizards at the summit of Kaylor's Knob in Virginia.

Fence Lizards Gettin' Jiggy

Another lizard posed for me too. This is a Five-lined Skink. I love his orange head. Some of them also have a blue tail. 

Good thing these creatures are content to sit still! Hoping to find some birds to photograph soon! 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

World Series of Birding - 2019

After many years of not competing in the New Jersey World Series of Birding contest, I was roped into participating this year. In years past, our little gang of women birders have participated in the contest but only in Cape May county. You may remember this post: 

This year, a fellow DVOC club member and friend asked if I would participate on the 1,000 Birds team to do a full state run. Why not? The team consists of Ken Walsh, Marc Chelemer and a few other guys that couldn't make it this year so they filled in with me, Harvey and Nicole Koeltzow. Marc, Ken and Harvey are all birding friends. You may remember Nicole from my trip to St. Paul Island in Alaska last September. She did a big year and won with 774 birds. We helped her get  #750 White-tailed Sea Eagle and a few others. You might remember this post: Nicole is pictured in the Sea Eagle photo.

Doing the full state competition is really tough. You start up north in the Great Swamp at midnight and bird all night and day and end up in the south at Stipson's Island marsh at 10 PM or later. We put hundreds of miles on Harvey's mini van and counted 180 bird species in total. Don't confuse this contest with "birding". It isn't birding. It is identifying and checking off bird species. We rarely stopped to look at any birds. We mainly listened for their call or caught a glimpse of them before moving on to our next target and destination.

Our first bird was Great-horned Owl at midnight sitting atop a dead tree in the great swamp. We could see the silhouette against the night sky. We heard many other marsh birds including Virginia Rail, Least Bittern, Solitary Sandpiper ( a shorebird that happened to call out in the night ), Woodcock and then heard a King Rail which is an uncommon bird. We traveled to various marshy destinations until sunrise. My best bird of the night was Eastern Screech Owl which I called in by imitating its "whinny call". I whinnied and it whinnied back! Check. Let's move on.

Honestly, the morning was a blur of stopping at this lake or in these woods listening for birds. I was driving the van. Ken was navigating. Turn left, turn right, go straight, STOP! I had no idea where we were but Ken and Marc had the route planned out to the minute. We did a pretty good job of staying on time until the afternoon.

Another of my best birds of the day was Common Raven. We drove up to the highest point in NJ to look for them at the nest site on the AT&T cell tower but they were not there. We stopped at a parking area at the bottom of the mountain where the road crew has piles of stone stored. We were looking for warblers but didn't see any. I had to pee so I ducked behind one of the stone piles. Everyone else did the same. With my pants down, I spotted 2 Ravens soaring overhead and yelled out to the others. All 4 of us got the Raven with our pants down! Check. Let's move on.

You'll notice the lack of photos in this post. There is no time for photos when you are in the competition. I did manage to get a shot of another bird that I found - White-crowned Sparrow.

White-crowned Sparrow
We ended the day with 180 species and came in 2nd place. We got a trophy. That's me on the left, then Nicole, Ken, Eric Stiles and David LaPuma from NJ Audubon who presented the trophy.

The first place team had 207 species. That team is made up of Cornell University Ornithology majors and they win every year. Maybe next year we'll break the 200 mark.

We are raising money for the DVOC Interns Fund. If you are inclined to donate, here is a link: Please enter 1,000 Birds in the comment section. Or, send me a check.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Spring has Sprung

It's April and officially spring. For us birders, we get really excited when we see or hear the first arrivals from the south. For me at home, spring is signified by Chipping Sparrows who showed up en-masse last week with a record high 7 of them hanging on the feeder at the same time.

Meanwhile, in the woods at Pennypack, I have been treated to seeing Louisiana Waterthrush on multiple occasions along the creek. I don't know if it is the same bird hanging around or a different bird moving through each day but one of them put on a show on Sunday morning singing his heart out.

Louisiana Waterthrush

The Wood Ducks are up in the trees whistling. That only means one thing - love is in the air for them. Wood Ducks make their nests in holes in the tree just like an owl. Here is a crazy photo for you:

That's a Screech Owl and a baby Wood Duck in the same hole!

More signs of spring in the woods include these wildflowers that Connie and I photographed on Saturday.

Virginia Bluebell

Trout Lily

Blood Root

Cut-leaf Toothworth

 Things are definitely ramping up for spring. and, I've been asked to participate in the World Series of Birding this year. Stay tuned for details.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Spring in My Yard

I realized recently that I neglect to write about the birds in my own backyard. I guess this is because it is usually the same-old-same-old with cardinals, chickadees and sparrows. Well, that certainly isn't the case lately. I think I am one of the only birders in the area who has Pine Siskins visiting my feeders. I've had them for a few months. A high count of 6 during one of the snow days in January. They are still hanging around and have been really hitting the bird seed hard this week. I think they may be fueling up to head north back into Canada soon. 

Pine Siskins
They are sure cute little buggers. Pine Siskins regularly mix in with Gold Finches. You can tell them apart easily. The Siskins are always streaky with a very thin bill. Some of them show yellow patches on the wings. You can see that on the right side bird above. Meanwhile, Goldfinches are not streaky. They are solid yellow with black wings most of the year. Take a look at the bird on the right below. This bird is in full molt going from dull gray to full yellow like the bird on the left. 

So, Siskins are fueling up to leave. Goldfinches are molting into their new breeding plumage. And at the same time, some birds are arriving from the south including Chipping Sparrows. They usually show up on tax day but this guy is early. 

Chipping Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbirds also arrived this week. Not that I like having them around since they lay eggs in the other birds nests but they are pretty to look at. All photos taken with iPhone out of my office window, so not that great. 

Interesting times in the yard also include frogs emerging from hibernation in the pond. Spring is here! 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Arabian Nights

You already read about my Kuwait birding adventures. Birding in Kuwait was a no-brainer since Kuwait was our work destination but I figured that I should also take advantage of the trip to spend another day in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) since my flight had a layover there anyway.

I hired another guide named Oscar in UAE. He is based in Abu Dhabi so that is where we met to spend a full day birding another area of the Persian Gulf. Oscar did his homework and mapped out a route for the day so that we would hit the areas where the specialty birds would be found. It is confusing to know which direction anything is in UAE. Here is a map of the region:

Persian Gulf
We started early and headed east toward the "mountains".  And by mountains, I mean a few high elevation areas of bare rock that stick up from the desert. We hit paydirt right off the bat with a few new birds including Desert Larks, Water Pipits and Gray Francolins that were in the public park at the bottom of the mountain. They didn't seem to mind the picnicking families.

Gray Francolin
And then I saw the Indian Roller - a bird that I have wanted to see since I first read about it in a magazine. They are colorful birds that command respect.

Indian Roller
The day was  overcast with light rain which is not ideal for finding birds (or lugging expensive cameras around) but we perservered and headed up a winding road to the top of the mountain where we found a few more target birds including this Sandgrouse sitting on a windy pinnacle.

Sand Grouse
And this stunning Blue Rock Thrush. It's a "wow" bird for sure.

Blue Rock Thrush
There is a hotel at the top of the mountain complete with a pool and water slide. We found a few more birds hanging around the pool area including Hume's Wheatear sitting on a post.

Hume's Wheatear
Our best desert find of the day was this Hoopoe Lark. A true desert specialty that reminds me of a thrasher or roadrunner  the way it scurries across the barren landscape. Oscar knew right where to go to find one and this guy put on a show.

We also looked for lakes which naturally attract birds. We found a few good ones at the lake near the horse race track. Clamorous Reed Warblers come by their name honestly - they are certainly clamorous. You often hear these loud birds but cannot see them hiding in the reeds right in front of you. It is maddening. Thankfully, this guy wasn't shy. He came right to the edge of the reeds and sang his heart out.

Clamorous Reed Warbler
Isabelline Wheatears are never shy. We saw many of these birds perched on top of posts or bushes in the desert.
Isabelline Wheatear
We often see other wildlife when birding but I never expected to see one of these! This is an Arabian Oryx. They were almost extinct from hunting. UAE has released some back into the desert after successful recovery program. I think the park people feed them to make sure of their success but it was still a pleasant surprise.

Arabian Oryx
We also caught a few glimpses of antelopes but they were too fast to catch with a photo. The only other desert animal that we found was this Desert Hare. He sat perfectly still as we walked by confident in his camouflage.

Desert Hare
We ended the day on a high note by finding an Egyptian Nightjar. Oscar knows where they like to nest and had heard one singing a few days earlier. We arrived before sunset in hopes of hearing the bird but got even luckier when we spotted him moving through the desert between bushes. I was able to sneak up on him and snap a few decent photos.

Egyptian Nightjar
Another great day of birding in Arabia. I highly recommend getting into the desert to see this amazing place. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Oh Mike, You Take Me To All the Nicest Places

Birding in Kuwait is a sometimes like birding at home and then sometimes totally NOT like birding at home. Most of the "hotspots" are centered around water as you can imagine. We went out to a remote abandoned quarry to find true desert birds. The place was barren except for a few shrubby trees surrounding the quarry pit. The winds howl in the desert and blow sand and trash for miles. Every tree and fence line that we passed had at least one plastic bag tangled in the branches.

Along with the trash, the trees also hold birds. We were able to track down a few specialties. The trees also attract migrants that are passing through. In fact, here is a photo that shows both the migrant (Semi-collared Flycatcher) and the trash.

Semi-collared Flycatcher
We saw a group of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters which are really cool looking. Not the best photo but they barely stopped moving so I was happy to get any photo at all of these colorful birds. 

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
Another really cool bird that blends into the desert is Crested Lark. 
Crested Lark
We headed back toward the city to hit some other birding locations. I have to admit that I was a little worried when Mike pulled the car into a back alley that looked like this:

Is this the part where I disappear and they only find pieces of my body years later? Gulp. Not to worry (of course). Would you believe that this is the entrance to Jahra Farms?  Once we went inside of the walls, we found the "farms" which is more like a community garden co-op than the farms that we are used to in the US. 

Jahra Farms
The farm/garden attracts birds due to the water and vegetation. Strange to see Kingfishers and Herons in a farm setting. 

Squacco Heron
This Squacco Heron is sitting in the middle of a patch of parsley which will eventually end up in one of the local markets or restaurants. The "farms" ended up being a great stop on our tour not only for the birds but also for the cultural experience. In fact, here it is on my plate in tabouli salad - yum! 

Back to more traditional birding locations after the farms including Sulaibikhat Bay . This spot is more like birding Delaware Bay in Cape May except that Sulaibikhat Bay has Greater Flamingos!

Greater Flamingo
Two Flamingo species in a month. Who would have thought? The bay also had multiple gull and tern species along with shorebirds. Unfortunately, the birds were pretty far out on the mudflats for photos. 

Our last stop was by far the most familiar to me. We headed to Jahra Pools which is a large wetland area where we found and photographed birds up close. One of my favorite bird groups is the Kingfisher group. We found 2 very cooperative species at the pools. White-throated Kingfisher indeed has a white throat.

White-throated Kingfisher
But the aqua color on the back is more impressive. 

White-throated Kingfisher

The other Kingfisher that uses the pools is the Pied Kingfisher. "Pied" means black and white and this bird exemplifies the pied name. This bird posed for us balancing on a reed in the wind. 

Pied Kingfisher
 Pied Kingfishers hover above the water looking for a fish.

Pied Kingfisher

It felt like home when we spotted an Osprey roosting in a dead tree. 

But then, we found 6 Greater Spotted Eagles that use the marsh for night roost. We photographed a few soaring low over the marsh. 
Greater Spotted Eagle
As they were landing for the evening. Interesting to see that they like to roost low in dead trees. 
Greater Spotted Eagle
And even on the ground. 
Greater Spotted Eagle
We spent some time looking for marsh birds like rails which are called "crakes" in Europe and Asia. Our patience was rewarded with up close views of 2 species. We had a typical view of Little Crake.

Little Crake - typical view
Yup. That is about the best view that I usually get of rails and crakes. Barely visible through the thick reeds. Not so for the Spotted Crake. This bird really put on a show running out in the open water.

Spotted Crake
A nice way to end an amazing day of birding in an amazing new area of the world - Kuwait.